Sexual health is a big part of life and with a sexually active lifestyle comes increased responsibility. According to the World Health Organization, adolescence marks a developmental phase where physical sexual maturity is acquired and coupled with increased autonomy, social immaturity, risk taking and spontaneity can often lead to sexual health risks and unintended consequences. Among the cited dangers include unplanned or unprotected sex, elevated risk of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and unintended pregnancies.

Being well informed, careful and respectful to yourself and others is the educational mission at Connect Medical Clinic in Dickinson, who are seeking to help get the word out about its services. The clinic will host its Impact Banquet from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 30, at the Astoria Hotel and Events Center, as part of that mission and are eager to welcome the community and share more about its mission.

Tara Zettel is the executive director at Connect Medical Clinic and a licensed sexual risk avoidance specialist. While the clinic does not provide contraceptives, Zettel noted that the clinic offers other education and resources aimed at promoting sexual health.

“Fertility awareness is our answer to contraceptives,” Zettel said. “We offer education about natural family planning, basically being aware of ovulation and avoiding that time of the month in order to not get pregnant.”

Connect Medical Clinic has free “Earn While You Learn” parenting classes with videos, worksheets and homework. The parent earns a free pack of diapers and wipes for each lesson they attend and can double their earnings by bringing along a partner, family member or friend for support in the learning process.

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“For first time, parents or teenage parents — who are not at all prepared to have a child — it really helps them have healthy pregnancy outcomes and prepare to have a newborn. And it goes all the way from pregnancy through age two of that child. So there’s even lessons on temper tantrums and sibling rivalries,” Zettel said.

The clinic also offers STI testing for a $25 fee. Infections scanned for by the test include chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, HIV, hepatitis C, as well as bacterial vaginosis and trichomoniasis for women. COVID-19 and other non-STI viruses can trigger false positives for HIV and hepatitis C, so they administer blood tests to verify results for those types of infections. Since HIV and hepatitis can only be treated and not cured, the clinic also offers free counseling for those who test positive.

Located near the intersection of State Avenue and Sixth Street West, the clinic is within walking distance for Dickinson High School and Dickinson State University students.

Zettel said the clinic's latest initiative is outfitting its new cargo trailer into a mobile health unit so clinical workers can run seminars at schools and provide services to residents throughout the western half of the state. Connect Medical Clinic is the only clinic of its kind west of Bismarck, she added.

At one point, Zettel noted that they had several women coming in who got false positives from what seems to have been a faulty batch of over-the-counter pregnancy tests. Those tests are generally reliable, but Connect Medical Clinic offers free limited ultrasounds to confirm a heartbeat and the viability of the fetus, she said.

Events such as this upcoming banquet are important because 6% of Connect Medical Clinic's budget is funded by grants from the North Dakota Department of Health, while the other 94% is made possible by the generosity of individuals and private organizations such as the Dickinson Rotary Club.

Mike Long is the featured speaker for the event. Long spent several years working as a teacher in North Carolina and holds a master’s degree in Christian school administration from the Southeastern Theological Seminary. He has also authored two books on sexual health — one for teenagers and the other for parents.

“He shares with us his 35-year perspective of talking to kids, being in the classroom with them. He points out how the culture wants to point to music, TV, advertising, etc., portray sex as a purely physical act. In reality, sex has emotional, mental and physical but also practical, social and even spiritual aspects to it. To tell someone, ‘It’s just a physical thing,’ isn’t exactly true,” Zettel said.

Connect Medical Clinic's Executive Director Tara Zettel, left, and Advancement Manager Mark Billings are pictured. (Jason O'Day / The Dickinson Press)
Connect Medical Clinic's Executive Director Tara Zettel, left, and Advancement Manager Mark Billings are pictured. (Jason O'Day / The Dickinson Press)

Mark Billings, advancement manager for the clinic, said this is the first live banquet fundraising event the clinic has held in two years. This year, the clinic hopes to raise $115,000 at the banquet.

“It’s one of the larger events of its kind in this area and people traditionally look forward to this. It attracts a large following. We’re expecting close to 400 people,” Billings added.

For those interested in attending the Impact Banquet, register online at connectmedicalclinic.com/impact. Though the event is free, guests are encouraged to make a donation.